Cinderella must be one of the very first stories. The tale of a young girl, mother dead, downtrodden by a stepmother and two nasty stepsisters and ignored by her weak father who now has a new family is universal and strikes a deep-seated nerve. Everyone can empathise with what it is to be cast aside and ignored.
And now Matthew Bourne, whose Swan Lake famously rewrote the ballet rulebook, has turned his sights on this other archetypal tale, and the result is quite simply stunning.
Ignoring the usual fairytale-palace setting, he locates the action in a posh household in one of the better districts of central London during the blitz. And it’s here that the numerous and well-connected household of this second family are having a very good war – top jobs, dining in posh restaurants and living it up after hours in chic Cafe de Paris-style nightclubs in between Spitfire sorties, neatly skewering the class inequalities of the day. You get the idea – this is Foyle’s War set to music.
With a palette of stark greys the very human action of this masterpiece is given an extra immediacy with the threat of imminent death ever present as we see the Ugly Sisters and the rest of the upper class dancing on the very brink of destruction, while the lower classes muddle through as they’ve always had to.
The non-stop action includes devastating bombing and a mugging that goes horribly wrong in a world turned upside down by constant bombardment – the blitz mentality here brings out no Dunkirk spirit, rather people’s worst side. And here one of the greatest triumphs of this marvellous production kicks in, as the disturbing urgency of Prokofiev’s wartime score is here utilised properly, seemingly for the very first time, as the working powerhouse of the on-stage action, its disturbing rhythms and almost atonal atmosphere unsettlingly underpinning every action, the dancers, thanks to Sir Matthew’s inspired choreography urgently catching its underlying message of imminent destruction and certain death.
This is a dark, dark look at the world, but don’t forget, this is story-land, and of course Cinders, against all hopes and everything Hitler can throw at her, finds her prince (thanks to a silver-clad Fairy Godfather) and can go on to live happily ever after in a marvellous story of Dunkirk spirit and hope.
The cheering audience and standing ovation at the end said it all.